Manchester United are third. Third. Third! Third? Third! That's right, below the team who are going to win the league, and Chelsea. There is some belting banter for you, right there, for free. Unless you are the editor, in which case it probably cost you more than you believe it was worth, but there's very little that can be done about it now, unless you are the only one reading it because you have removed it before it is published, in which case the people reading this will actually not be reading this at all. But they will still be people.
It is fair to guess that Chelsea are going to win the league, what with having the best squad, best manager, and best collection of points so far this season. Diego Costa may be injured, but Loic Remy is no fool, and those behind him are some of the best players in the league. Arsenal fans would claim that their collection of playmakers are in fact the superior collection of playmakers and, bless them, that is what makes Arsenal fans so charmingly naive. That is one reason for United's optimism after a couple of encouraging wins, the Londoner's marked delusion — but we are still fundamentally crap. And we could still be shown up as fundamentally crap against Chelsea in a couple of weeks. Better than most, yes, but when was that the point of Manchester United over the last two decades?
There's a surfeit of optimism going into the toughest period of United's season, all off the back of what should be considered the bare minimum. It was all very nice to see Juan Mata saunter about with gay abandon on the right wing, playing as he should have been for the past 15 months, and Ander Herrera has shown why he is the midfielder least in need of replacing, but there are still problems across the team that, should they play a competent side, or one that actually gets close to competence, then the trouble could well begin again.
And the vague notion of competence is coming into view for Manchester United as they race into games against against Manchester City and Arsenal. You could also mention Liverpool in this list of contenders if you wanted a laugh. So let's mention them: Liverpool. Recovered? OK, take a few minutes more.
No, me too.
OK, OK, OK, I've got it. I've got it.
Huuuuuuuuuuuuh. OK! I'm good, I'm good.
This is still a defence with Phil Jones and Chris Smalling likely to make up at least one half of the back four. As barely able as they have been recently (admittedly, Smalling has been better than that, but only of late, and only for a short time so far), they also have the one-paced Daley Blind and the one-celled Antonio Valencia either side. Perhaps Luke Shaw will be be back, but he also clearly wants for gorm.
Michael Carrick is still unable to run or pay attention to those around him, and he still may be calm but he is also still a slow thinker in a tight space — just have a look at the goal United conceded against Liverpool a few weeks ago. Wayne Rooney remains unable to control the ball, and Ashley Young has no equal when it comes to crossing for the defender at the near post, whether be on his left or right foot, and whether it's from a corner, free kick or the corner of the box. Marouane Fellaini needs replacing by a real live footballer as soon as possible, as even when hugely improved he doesn't really appear suited to the sport, and the bench offers few, if any, options. Robin van Persie, Falcao and ... that's it.
This isn't meant to be pessimistic, merely realistic. United have to play Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea, all teams who have no reason to slack off as they play. Luckily, United probably have a sufficient gap between them and fifth place, and Liverpool appear to have thrown their own chance away. Should any of those three teams play close to their maximum ability, United will struggle to draw, even, with any of them. United can be optimistic about the transfer window, with sensible targets already identified, but just like the next seven games, there's no good reason for people to start deluding themselves over what really is possible.